May 6, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 6, 2022
A Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade Might Upend the Midterms
MSN – Dan Balz, Colby Itkowitz, and Caroline Kitchener (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2022
Supporters of abortion rights and their Democratic allies predicted that Politico’s publication of a leaked draft opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. would reverberate through to the fall campaign. They said it could make the election a choice between Democratic and Republican governance that could ultimately hold down expected GOP gains. Countering that view were assertions by Republicans and opponents of abortion who said their supporters would be energized by a decision and issues such as inflation and crime will continue to influence voters’ decisions as much or more than abortion rights.
Draft Abortion Opinion Puts New Spotlight on Confirmation Hearings
MSN – Seung Min Kim (Washington Post) | Published: 5/4/2022
In the wake of a leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, there is fresh scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process, in which nominees say as little as possible and senators are left to parse their language on how they would rule. It is not just the increasingly predictable and evasive answers of nominees that are prodding some senators to conclude the hearings have become empty theater. More and more, the confirmation votes themselves seem a foregone conclusion, with senators hewing to the party line and many using their allotted time to launch political broadsides rather than seek information.
Former Top State Official to Plead Guilty for Helping Qatar
Yahoo News – Alan Sunderman and Jim Mustian (Associated Press) | Published: 4/27/2022
A former top-ranking State Department official will plead guilty for improperly helping Qatar influence U.S. policy and not disclosing on an ethics form gifts he received from a disgraced political fundraiser. Richard Olson, who was the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of the Obama administration, provided “aid and advice” to Qatar on lobbying activities in violation of a “revolving door” prohibition against such behavior for one year after leaving public service.
Gas Giants Have Been Ghostwriting Letters of Support from Elected Officials
Yahoo Finance – Chris D’Angelo (HuffPost) | Published: 5/2/2022
For the past several months, local officials in Virginia and North Carolina, primarily elected Republicans, have been peppering federal regulators with glowing letters in support of gas projects in their states. Internal emails show these letters all had something in common – they were ghostwritten by lobbyists and consultants of the two major pipeline firms behind those projects. The communications show how Williams Companies and TC Energy Corporation worked to boost political support for a number of natural gas infrastructure projects currently under federal review.
How a Billionaires Boys’ Club Came to Dominate the Public Square
MSN – Michael Scherer and Sarah Ellison (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2022
Technological change and the fortunes it created have given a small club of wealthy individuals the ability to play arbiter, moderator, and bankroller of not only the information that feeds the nation’s discourse but also the architecture that undergirds it. The information that courses over these networks is increasingly produced by publications controlled by fellow billionaires and other wealthy dynasties, who have filled the void of the collapsing profit-making journalism market with varying combinations of self-interest and altruism. It is a situation that has alarmed policy experts at both ends of the increasingly vicious ideological and partisan divides.
Jan. 6 Panel Wants Testimony from GOP Lawmakers Brooks, Biggs, Jackson
Yahoo News – Rebecca Beitsch (The Hill) | Published: 5/2/2022
The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol is seeking voluntary testimony from three additional members of Congress who appeared to have some coordination with rioters and efforts to block President Biden’s electoral victory both before and after the attack. The letter to Rep. Mo Brooks notes former President Trump asked him to help keep him in office even after January 6. A letter to Rep. Andy Biggs references his involvement in discussions to secure presidential pardons in connection with efforts to unwind the 2020 election. A letter to Rep. Ronny Jackson points to exchanges between members of the Oath Keepers militia group citing the need to protect the lawmaker.
Judge Upholds Jan. 6 Committee Subpoena for RNC Records
Yahoo News – Kyle Cheney (Politico) | Published: 5/2/2022
A judge supported a House select committee’s effort to obtain internal Republican National Committee (RNC) data. In rejecting the RNC lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Tim Kelly said the committee had demonstrated its need for the party’s data on its fundraising emails between November 3, 2020, and January 6, 2021, when the RNC and Trump campaign sent supporters messages falsely suggesting the election was stolen. The committee contends those emails helped sow the seeds of the violence that erupted on January 6. The decision is a major victory for the panel and could open the doors to reams of internal RNC data held by Salesforce, a vendor the RNC used to run email fundraising campaigns.
Panel Sends FEC Nominee Dara Lindenbaum to Senate Floor
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 5/3/2022
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved the nomination of Dara Lindenbaum to the FEC. Lindenbaum, an election lawyer, would fill the seat of Steven Walther, an independent who was picked by Democrats. Lindenbaum said she would recuse herself for two years from cases involving her own clients or those of her firm. Her client roster includes Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor this year and ran in 2018, as well as other federal, state, and local candidates and political committees.
Trump Officials Muzzled CDC on Church Covid Guidance, Emails Confirm
MSN – Dan Diamond (Washington Post) | Published: 4/28/2022
Trump White House officials in May 2020 removed public health advice urging churches to consider virtual religious services as the coronavirus spread, delivering a messaging change sought by the president’s supporters, according to emails from former top officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released reports saying the virus had killed three and infected dozens at church events in Arkansas and health experts had warned houses of worship had become hot spots for virus transmission. But Trump officials wrote they were frustrated by “problematic” advice the CDC had already posted. The guidance published by CDC did not include recommendations about offering virtual or drive-in options for religious services.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – A Top Ducey Aide Raised Nearly $13k from Lobbyists Whose Cash He Promised to Shun
Arizona Mirror – Dillon Rosenblatt | Published: 5/3/2022
When Matt Gress, the budget director for Gov. Doug Ducey, launched his campaign for the Arizona House in December, he promised not to accept any contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session to avoid the appearance his campaign might influence his work for the state. His first campaign finance report in 2022 shows he did not follow through on that promise.
California – ‘Pay to Play’ Governor Behest Payment Contracting Bill Killed by Senate Democrats
California Globe – Evan Symon | Published: 4/29/2022
A bill that would have prohibited state agencies in California from awarding contracts to companies that made behest payments on the governor’s behalf failed to pass the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. Senate Bill 1367 would have specifically prohibited state agencies from awarding a contract for which the agency had not secured at least three competitive bids or proposals to a company that made a payment at the behest of the governor in the preceding 12 months.
Colorado – Colorado Lawmakers Define ‘Major Purpose’ in Campaign Finance Laws, Clarify Who Must File Reports
Colorado Politics – Marianne Goodland | Published: 5/4/2022
A bill in the Colorado Senate would change campaign finance laws pertaining to issue committees, which deal with ballot measures. The bill’s main purpose is to define “major purpose” in campaign finance statutes and the parameters under which it would apply, particularly when it comes to issue committees. Senate Bill 237 would establish clear thresholds on spending, above which an organization would qualify as having a “major purpose” of supporting a ballot measure and which would trigger registration as an issue committee, as well as a requirement to file campaign finance reports.
Florida – Disney’s Special Tax District Pushes Back Against Law That Would Dissolve It
MSN – Lori Rozsa and Beth Reinhard (Washington Post) | Published: 4/28/2022
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis assailed Disney for siding with the LGBTQ community over a controversial law. But if DeSantis is looking to reshape Disney’s operations and its uniquely powerful control in the state, he may come up short. The details of the state’s dissolution of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District are still being hashed out behind closed doors. But Reedy Creek is not waiting. The special taxing district, which encompasses most of Disney’s Central Florida properties and allows Disney to effectively self-govern, is already pushing back, indicating it plans to fight the dissolution of a 1967 compact with the state.
Georgia – City Fires Longtime Officials Who Were Mentioned During Bicker’s Corruption Trial
WSB – Richard Belcher | Published: 5/4/2022
The city of Atlanta fired two longtime city officials whose names came up in testimony during the Mitzi Bickers’ bribery trial. The star prosecution witness testified that Bickers, a former campaign aide to then-Mayor Kasim Reed, who later worked for his administration, told the witness that Cotena Alexander and Rita Braswell were “our people” at City Hall. Bickers was convicted of eight counts of bribery, money laundering.
Georgia – Stacey Abrams Switches Gears from Campaign Fundraising to Aiding Abortion Rights
MSN – Eugene Scott (Washington Post) | Published: 5/4/2022
Stacey Abrams, one of the Democratic Party’s most notable fundraisers, paused fundraising for her Georgia gubernatorial race to redirect funds to abortion rights groups after a draft Supreme Court opinion signaling the end to a constitutional right to abortion was made public. Abrams’ ability to temporarily redirect funds to groups working to expand abortion access is thought to be possible in part because she regularly beats her main GOP competitors, Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, in fundraising.
Georgia – Trump Election Probe Special Grand Jury Selected in Atlanta
MSN – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 5/2/2022
A special grand jury was selected for the investigation into whether former President Trump and others illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia. The investigation has been underway since early last year, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took this unusual step to help it along. She noted in a letter to the chief judge that the special grand jury would be able to issue subpoenas to people who have refused to cooperate otherwise.
Idaho – Experts: Lawmaker rape case a ‘rare victory’ for sexual assault survivors
Idaho Press – Rebecca Boone (Associated Press) | Published: 4/30/2022
When a legislative intern came forward with rape allegations against an Idaho lawmaker last year, she was subjected to months of online harassment and abuse. She later testified about the attack at an ethics hearing, and some of the lawmaker’s supporters filmed her and chased her through the statehouse. The young woman took the stand to testify in his criminal trial and became so distraught she fled the courtroom. Aaron von Ehlinger’s rape conviction was a rare victory for prosecutors in a criminal justice system that can be fraught with trauma for sexual assault survivors, experts say.
Illinois – New Chicago IG Asked to Investigate City Clerk Anna Valencia’s Lobbying Connections
MSN – Mary Ann Ahern (WMAQ) | Published: 4/27/2022
For the first time in months, the city of Chicago has a new inspector general as Deborah Witzburg was unanimously approved for the position. Witzburg now officially replaces Joe Ferguson, who resigned after publicly criticizing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. One of her first acts in office will be to potentially look into City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office, with Ald. Silvana Tabares asking the new inspector general to investigate allegations the secretary of state candidate and her husband Reyahd Kazmi violated state lobbying rules.
Kansas – Kansas Ethics Panel to Redo Hearing After Questions Over Director’s Law License, Statehouse Probe
Yahoo News – Andrew Bahl (Topeka Capital-Journal) | Published: 4/27/2022
The Kansas Government Ethics Commission moved to grant a new hearing in a case involving an Overland Park civic group, after questions were raised about the law license of the agency’s director, Mark Skoglund. The move comes weeks after Skoglund’s law license was used as pretense by legislators to make a policy change that would have effectively removed him from office. While lawmakers eventually backed off on the plan, it was later revealed the proposal was offered as the ethics panel was investigating one of the state’s most high-profile groups and, potentially, Republican legislators.
Kentucky – Supreme Court Denies Former Top KY Dem’s Request to Overturn Campaign Finance Conviction
MSN – Austin Horn (Lexington Herald Leader) | Published: 5/4/2022
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Jerry Lundergan’s request to overturn his conviction for illegally funneling $200,000 to his daughter’s 2014 political campaign. The former Kentucky Democratic Party chairperson was convicted in 2018 for the contributions made through a corporation to daughter Alison Lundergan Grimes in her 2014 challenge against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Lundergan’s petition argued the federal ban on corporate contributions is unconstitutional when applied to donations from a close family member.
Louisiana – ‘I See How This Looks’: Council grills top Cantrell official over ‘smart cities’ deal
The Lens – Michael Isaac Stein | Published: 4/27/2022
New Orleans City Council members grilled a top city official, Jonathan Rhodes, over a now-abandoned “smart cities” project he played a central role in developing, and which has become the subject of a formal council investigation over potential contract-rigging and conflicts-of-interest. The council formally requested the city’s inspector general to open an investigation into New Orleans’ bidding process. Questions have mounted about the process that led the city to award the project to a consortium of companies called Smart+Connected NOLA. Rhodes had been in contact with the consortium for months before the request for proposals was released and worked with a consultant that is partnered with those same companies.
Maryland – Treasurer Charged with Embezzlement from Annapolis Campaign Committee
Baltimore Sun – Dan Belson (Capital Gazette) | Published: 5/4/2022
The Office of the State Prosecutor in Maryland announced it filed embezzlement charges against the treasurer of a Democratic political committee for Annapolis-area candidates, alleging she deposited more than $4,000 in campaign funds into a personal bank account. Prosecutors allege Alexandra Gilbreath, treasurer of Team 30 Slate, deposited funds from the committee into her personal Venmo account for an almost three-month span in 2018. She then used the funds for personal expenses, charging papers say. Prosecutors also accuse Gilbreath of failing to file or amend four campaign finance reports for the committee.
Massachusetts – Former State Police Head and Three Others Violated Ethics Law by Altering Arrest Report for Judge’s Daughter, Ethics Commission Alleges
MSN – Andrea Estes (Boston Globe) | Published: 4/29/2022
Richard McKeon, the former head of the Massachusetts State Police, violated the state’s conflict-of-interest law when he ordered a trooper to remove embarrassing remarks from the arrest report of a judge’s daughter, lawyers for the state Ethics Commission charged. Commission lawyers also allege Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., as well as his First Assistant Jeffrey Travers, and State Police Major Susan Anderson abused their positions to help the judge after his daughter was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs. They asked the Ethics Commission’s hearing officer to find the four violated the law and impose fines up to $20,000 apiece.
Michigan – FBI Raids Home in New Public Corruption Probe in Metro Detroit
Detroit News – Robert Snell and Mike Martindale | Published: 5/3/2022
Federal agents arrested two Wayne County employees accused of using taxpayer money to buy power equipment worth more than $1.7 million they later sold for personal profit. The allegations against Wayne County Roads Division manager Kevin Gunn and foreman John Gibson involved 596 generators and other power equipment that was never supplied or used by the county. The alleged scheme involved Gunn soliciting county vendors to buy generators, lawnmowers, chainsaws, and backpack blowers from area retailers. The case marks the latest federal investigation of corruption within the ranks of government in Metro Detroit.
Minnesota – Minneapolis City Council Blocks Chamber Consulting Gift to Improve Mayor Frey’s Office Efficiency
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Liz Navratil | Published: 4/28/2022
Mayor Jacob Frey cannot receive consulting services from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce after a city council vote fell one short of the number that he needed to accept the gift. The chamber intended to loan a staffer to the mayor’s office for several weeks in hopes she could advise the office on how to improve their efficiency. Some council members raised concerns about the arrangement, noting the chamber supported a ballot initiative last fall that granted the mayor more power over the city’s daily operations.
Mississippi – Governor Vetoes Bill Tweaking Campaign Finance Law
Daily Journal – Taylor Vance | Published: 5/4/2022
The way Mississippi holds its politicians accountable for skirting state campaign finance law is convoluted with large gaps in the enforcement process. It appears that will not change anytime soon. Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed legislation that would have transferred the power to levy fines against candidates who fail to file campaign finance reports on time from the state Ethics Commission to the Mississippi secretary of state’s office. The snag in the current process is that it forces three different state organizations to share responsibilities for issuing fines, leading to a confusing process.
New Jersey – A Toxic Culture Exists in N.J. Politics, Campaigns, Experts Say. This Lesson Aims to Prevent Harassment.
MSN – Susan Livio (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/29/2022
Three out of four people who are targeted with unwelcome sexual remarks or physical contact at work never file a sexual harassment complaint, according to experts who have studied the issue. For people who work on a political campaign or have a job in New Jersey politics, the YWCA of Northern New Jersey and New Jersey State Bar Association Foundation created a video tutorial to let everyone to know that “toxic culture” is not acceptable. The video, made with the help of some of the state’s most prominent women in politics, will be sent to every campaign and political body that can be located, beginning in June.
New York – Gov. Hochul Taps Rep. Antonio Delgado as New Lieutenant Governor
Gotham Gazette – Brigid Bergin | Published: 5/3/2022
U.S. Gov. Kathy Hochul moved to fill the vacant lieutenant governor position, tapping U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado to take the role. Hochul is the first woman to serve as governor of New York. Delgado is the first person of color to represent the 19th Congressional District. He is the first person of African American and Hispanic descent to be the state’s lieutenant governor. A representative of a predominantly white and rural congressional district, Delgado has emphasized his ability to work across the aisle. His campaign website touts the two awards he won for his bipartisanship from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
New York – Hochul Pens Legal Path for Former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin to Drop Off Primary Ballot
Yahoo News – Rob Hackford (WGRZ) | Published: 5/2/2022
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that gives disgraced former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin a legal path to get off the state’s primary ballot. Hochul’s signature came almost immediately after the Legislature got it passed despite a limited timeline and political criticism. The law allows any candidate for local, state, or federal office to remove themselves from a ballot if they have had an accusatory instrument filed against them in state court; had a criminal complaint or indictment filed against them in federal court; been convicted at any time after they are designated or nominated.
New York – Judge Won’t Revive NY Political Maps That Favored Democrats
Yahoo News – Marina Villeneuve (Associated Press) | Published: 5/4/2022
A federal judge refused to order New York to hold its congressional and state Senate primaries this spring using district maps declared unconstitutional by state judges, saying a legal effort by Democrats to revive the maps looked unlikely to succeed. Replacement maps are now being drawn by an independent scholar at Carnegie Mellon University under the supervision of a state judge. The judge ordered the state’s primaries for Congress and state Senate moved from June to August so the redistricting process would have enough time to play out.
New York – Trump Grand Jury Ending in N.Y. with No Charges Against Ex-President
MSN – Shayna Jacobs, Josh Dawsey, and Jonathan O’Connell (Washington Post) | Published: 4/29/2022
A New Yor City grand jury that was convened late last year to hear evidence against Donald Trump was set to expire, closing a chapter in a lengthy criminal investigation that appears to be fizzling out without charges against the former president, people familiar with matter said. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office in January, inherited a probe launched by his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., who was convinced there was a case against Trump for crimes related to manipulating the value of property assets to secure tax advantages or better loan rates.
North Carolina – Federal Court Considers Ruling That Blocked Madison Cawthorn Eligibility Challenge
Yahoo News – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 5/4/2022
A federal appeals court questioned whether a lower court got it right when it blocked a challenge of U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s candidacy by voters who cited a section of the Constitution addressing insurrection as disqualifying him. Three judges on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit that Cawthorn filed to derail the formal challenge sent to the State Board of Elections in North Carolina from going forward. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Myers ruled for Cawthorn in March and prevented the board from formally examining whether he should remain on ballots, and the voters appealed.
Ohio – A Limited Ban on Developer Campaign Donations Goes into Effect This Month
WVXU – Becca Costello | Published: 5/4/2022
A ban on some campaign donations to Cincinnati City Council members and the mayor takes effect on May 26. Interim City Manager John Curp recently approved regulations for the “solicitation ban” the council passed last year. The rules prohibit sitting council members and the mayor from soliciting or accepting campaign donations from someone with active business at the council, starting from the day the ordinance is filed with the council clerk. A new Office of Ethics and Good Government has been working on the regulations since last fall.
Ohio – Election 2022: JD Vance wins Ohio’s GOP Senate primary
MSN – Jill Colvin and Julie Carr Smyth (Associated Press) | Published: 5/4/2022
“Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance won Ohio’s contentious Republican U.S. Senate primary on, buoyed by Donald Trump’s endorsement in a race that was an early test of the former president’s hold on his party as the midterm season kicks into high gear. A onetime critic of Trump, Vance spent much of the campaign behind in the polls. But an endorsement from Trump pushed him to frontrunner status and the two men downplayed Vance’s past scathing criticism of the former president, with Vance saying he was wrong. He now faces Democrat Tim Ryan in the general election race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
Tennessee – Campaign Finance Reform Bill Passes After McNally Issues Rebuke of Dark-Money Groups
Yahoo News – Adam Friedman (Tennessean) | Published: 4/28/2022
Tennessee lawmakers passed House Bill 1201, which requires 501(c)4s, often considered “dark money” organizations, to disclose any expenses over $5,000 in the 60 days leading up to an election when using candidate names and images. The bill’s final version would enhance several disclosure laws around campaign service companies and make various changes to increase transparency with the Registry of Election Finance. Some of the provisions directly respond to actions by former speaker and current Rep. Glen Casada and former Rep. Robin Smith. In March, Smith pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge.
Texas – Lobby Ordinance Needs Revision to Cover Virtual Meetings
Austin Monitor – Jo Clifton | Published: 5/4/2022
Auditors have found that while Austin’s registered lobbyists are largely complying with city regulations, there is one significant gap in the reporting requirements. Although lobbyists are required to report their in-person meetings, no such requirement exists for virtual meetings, according to a report discussed at a city council committee. Some offices use an electronic form while others use the electronic calendars to keep up with virtual lobbyist meetings, but nothing in city code requires either the lobbyist or the person being lobbied to keep a record.
Vermont – After Years in Committee Limbo, a Statewide Ethics Code Is Finally Adopted in Vermont
VTDigger.org – Sarah Mearhoff | Published: 5/4/2022
Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill that establishes a code of ethics in Vermont. Senate Bill 171 establishes baseline ethics rules for public officials in state government. It sets boundaries around conflicts-of-interest, preferential treatment, gifts, outside employment, the use of state employment for personal gain, among other provisions. It also protects whistleblowers from retaliation. Before the bill passed, Vermont was one of only five states without statewide codes of ethics for officials.
Virginia – Youngkin’s Move to Force Loudoun School Board Elections Called ‘Troubling’
MSN – Gregory Schneider and Laura Vozzella (Washington Post) | Published: 4/30/2022
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to force the entire Loudon County School Board to face new elections this fall, shortening the terms of most of its members, stunned many political observers as an intrusion into local election integrity without modern precedent in Virginia. The plan, aimed at a school board that Youngkin has made a constant political target, initially won approval from the Republican-controlled House. But the Democratic-controlled Senate killed it, with one Republican senator joining the vote against a measure he called “troubling.”
Washington – Republican Spokane County Commissioner Candidate Gets Partial Exemption from Campaign Finance Requirements
Yahoo News – Colin Tiernan (Spokane Spokesman-Review) | Published: 4/29/2022
The Public Disclosure Commission voted to allow Kim Plese, a Republican candidate for Spokane County commissioner, to withhold the names of clients who spent more than $12,000 at her printing business for a one-year time-period, so long as those clients are not governmental entities or candidates for elected office. Washington law requires candidates for elected office to disclose a wide range of financial information. In Plese’s case, that means sharing recent transaction records for the business she owned for more than 30 years, Plese Printing and Marketing. Plese did not want to share records of sales greater than $12,000.
Washington DC – Trump Organizations Agree to Pay $750,000 to Settle Lawsuit with District
MSN – Keith Alexander (Washington Post) | Published: 5/3/2022
The Trump Organization and Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee agreed to pay the District of Columbia $750,000 to settle a lawsuit the city filed alleging the organizations misused nonprofit funds to benefit the former president and his family. The city filed a lawsuit in 2020 alleging the Inaugural Committee, a nonprofit corporation, coordinated with Trump’s family to overpay for event space in the Trump International Hotel and even paid for space on days when it did not hold events, among other malfeasance.
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